This article titled “Cheltenham Festival: Gold Cup day and BHA ‘anti-amateur’ row – live!” was written by Barry Glendenning, plus Chris Cook and Greg Wood (at Cheltenham), for theguardian.com on Friday 15th March 2019 11.08 UTC
BHA accused of having “anti-amateur agenda”
Today’s Foxhunter Chase, known as the amateurs’ Gold Cup because it is run over the same course and distance, will take place amid widespread concern that racing’s ruling body is no longer comfortable with amateur participation at the Cheltenham Festival.
The British Horseracing Authority was accused on social media of having an “anti-amateur agenda” after the stewards banned Johnny Barry for 12 days on Thursday in response to his ride in the Kim Muir. Barry’s mount, Drumconnor Lad, was tailed off before falling at the final fence and lying winded for several minutes before rising to his feet. Given that Barry had no hope of reaching a place, as there were 17 others in front of him when his horse fell, sympathy for his position may be limited.
But the subject is a very touchy one for racing insiders, many of whom were outraged when three jockeys were banned after Tuesday’s National Hunt Chase for continuing in the race on tired horses; one of the three eventually finished third and Sir Anthony McCoy was among those expressing bafflement at the idea that a jockey should be expected to pull up his mount when third place was achievable in a Festival race.
Preview: Martin Pipe Hurdle (5.30)
The last race of the Cheltenham Festival is a handicap hurdle for conditional (inexperienced) jockeys. It has been won for the past two years by Gordon Elliott, who worked for Pipe and has said he makes a target of the race. His Dallas Des Pictons, a winner at the Dublin Racing Festival, looks the right favourite, though he has gone up 10lb. Third in this last year, Early Doors might last home a bit better on this drier surface. Representing the Nicholls / Frost team, If You Say Run will find this a lot harder than the mares’ handicap she won in the autumn. Doctor Dex has been progressing at a low level and this is a tough place to start in handicaps. Daybreak Boy is interesting, as a useful Flat racer turned exciting hurdler, who ran away with a Clonmel race in January.
Preview: Grand Annual (4.50)
Paul Nicholls seeks back-to-back wins in this two-mile handicap chase, his main hopes seemingly with Magic Saint, the ex-French youngster who might be leniently treated after a cosy win last time. Nicholls also has last year’s winner, Le Prezien, who hasn’t had his ideal conditions so far this winter. Not Another Muddle is the winner of three of his last four and may have more to offer, though he’d prefer more cut. Whatswrongwithyou is a novice going places, having won his last two, and his opening mark is not harsh. Brelan D’As has enough ability to win a race like this but has flopped in three starts at Cheltenham.
Preview: Foxhunters Chase (4.10)
Here comes the amateurs’ Gold Cup, in which the excellent twosome Derek O’Connor and Jamie Codd top the betting. O’Connor is on Stand Up And Fight, a promising youngster who was somehow beaten in a point at odds-on last time. Codd rides Ucello Conti, who has a stack of placed efforts in valuable handicaps but struggled to win until he was switched into hunter chases. This is his first spin around Cheltenham. Hazel Hill is 11, like Ucello Conti, and therefore a bit senior but in the form of his life, judging by an emphatic success at Warwick.
Caid Du Berlais seemed not to see out the trip last year but it’s drier ground this time. Road To Rome has won all four races since joining his current trainer and his latest effort puts him right in the argument, though he could do without any overnight rain. Pacha Du Polder tries for a third successive win but is 12 now and comes here off the back of a weaker effort than he has put up for years.
Preview: Gold Cup (3.30)
There is a tide in the affairs of steeplechasers which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune. That’s where Clan Des Obeaux and Kemboy are right now: talented, young, rapidly improving and surely the best in this field. I think Clan faced a stronger field when he won last time than Kemboy did, but that doesn’t necessarily make Clan the better horse. Pace may be the making of this race because Kemboy is likely to sit more forward than his main rival. If the pace is really strong, Clan will have his chance to pick them all off. If the pace is more restrained, perhaps Kemboy will be bounding up the hill before Clan can reel him in.
This ground is not as testing as last year, which is a problem for Native River. Something will prove faster than him, I expect. Presenting Percy has had a difficult preparation and his form is not as strong as it looked at one stage. Bellshill was well held by Kemboy in December before winning the Irish Gold Cup. Thistlecrack was less than two lengths behind Clan Des Obeaux last time and this more testing circuit should suit him better, though he is old for this at 11.
Might Bite, second last year, has more suitable ground this time but has yet to finish in front of a rival this winter. Bristol De Mai has been given time since his King George fall and perhaps that will help him improve on his seventh place of 2017. Al Boum Photo was held when falling behind Presenting Percy last year but has improved since.
Preview: Albert Bartlett (2.50)
It took Bobs Worth to win this race for Nicky Henderson. Is Birchdale in that class? He lines up for the Seven Barrows trainer as the likely favourite here, having been possibly a shade fortuitous to score here in January. This is the softest ground he has met and his stamina for the extra half-mile is unknown.
Lisnagar Oscar is another who might have prefered drier ground. He’d be a welcome winner for the yard of Rebecca Curtis, who has won this before. Willie Mullins has Allaho, who looked so impressive at Clonmel last month, in a race that has sometimes thrown up Festival winners. Commander Of Fleet will appreciate the emphasis being put on stamina, which looks his long suit.
Preview: County Hurdle (2.10)
Here’s a proper race for you, a 26-runner handicap hurdle over the minimum distance, a contest that will surely reward deep studying. Whiskey Sour heads the betting, because we all love it when Mullins and Walsh team up, but I’m not sure this would be the most obvious winner otherwise. He was third last year, hasn’t won since, is 3lb higher and hasn’t been seen since November. Mr Adjudicator might give Mullins a better chance, bearing in mind he won a Grade One as a juvenile and chased home Espoir D’Allen on his only start this season. Espoir D’Allen is the champion hurdler, in case you’ve forgotten.
Eclair De Beaufeu represents Gordon Elliott and was a “never nearer” fourth in his first handicap, a hot affair at the Dublin Racing Festival. Crooks Peak has a 5lb penalty for a recent win at Newbury and perhaps he can build on that first run for over two months. Monsieur Lecoq will have to be tough, having been second in tiring conditions in Saturday’s Imperial Cup; if he’s ready to go again, he may reward more patient tactics. Magic Dancer was second in the Betfair, though the form has not been upheld by the winner or the fourth. Capitaine might be more comfortable turning right.
1.30 Triumph Hurdle
The bookmakers took a shellacking on Day Three and will therefore be delighted to see that Friday’s card opens with a hot favourite. Sir Erec is threatening to go odds-on as he tries to follow up his Leopardstown romp last month and it looks as though only the hurdles may stand in his way. But Paul Nicholls will take a couple of shots at him, with Quel Destin, the winner of six hurdle races, and Pic D’Orhy, who had some really strong-looking form in France but has yet to run here. Beyond them, the next horses in the betting are Tiger Tap Tap and Gardens Of Babylon, who were both well behind Sir Erec last time.
Top jockeys after Day Three
- Barry Geraghty 2
- Nico De Boinville 2
- Mark Walsh 2
- Jamie Codd 2
- JJ Slevin 1
- Paul Townend 1
- Harry Cobden 1
- Ruby Walsh 1
- Rachael Blackmore 1
- Keith Donoghue 1
- Aidan Coleman 1
- Noel Fehily 1
- Bryony Frost 1
- Lizzie Kelly 1
- Jerry McGrath 1
- Derek O’Connor 1
- Harry Skelton 1
Barry Geraghty has plenty of doubters these days but the rides he gave Defi and Sire Du Berlais to win the first two races on Thursday were at least as good as any we’ve seen this week, determined and highly effective. I accept that you don’t see the best of him in every race but he’s still top class when he sets his mind on a race. Richard Johnson, Jack Kennedy, Davy Russell, Daryl Jacob, Robbie Power and Sam Twiston-Davies don’t have a winner between them, which just underlines why it matters so much to every jockey who manages to get one. Ruby Walsh, you’ll recall, won the very first race of the week and it was just like old times, but perhaps the effort required to get a Guardian nap over the line took something out of him; he’s 0/10 since, all his mounts starting at 9-1 or shorter.
Top jockey betting: 7-4 Barry Geraghty 9-4 Mark Walsh 5-1 Nico De Boinville 12-1 Harry Cobden 16-1 Ruby Walsh 16-1 Paul Townend 20-1 Jamie Codd
Top trainers after Day Three
- Willie Mullins 3 wins
- Nicky Henderson 3
- Gordon Elliott 3
- Paul Nicholls 2
- Joseph O’Brien 1
- Philip Hobbs 1
- Dan Skelton 1
- Ben Pauling 1
- Martin Brassil 1
- Henry De Bromhead 1
- Gavin Cromwell 1
- Emma Lavelle 1
- Ted Walsh 1
- Nick Williams 1
- Ireland 11 Britain 10
The same names are at the top of the heap but the superpowers aren’t dominating to quite the same extent as last year, when Mullins and Elliott had 13 wins between them by this stage. Nicholls is looking in great shape for his title bid, having won two Grade Ones, one more than Henderson, with Clan Des Obeaux still to come in the Gold Cup. You could worry about the form of Colin Tizzard, who is 0/15 at this Festival and, more troublingly, one from 43 over the past two weeks. Still, Lostintranslation ran a fair race when second in the JLT, so perhaps there’s nothing much in it. Hopefully, Thistlecrack and Native River will be able to show their best form in the Gold Cup.
Top trainer betting: 6-4 Willie Mullins 2-1 Gordon Elliott 9-4 Nicky Henderson 20-1 Paul Nicholls
Today’s races and our tips
- 1.30 Triumph Hurdle Sir Erec 10-11
- 2.10 County Hurdle Eclair De Beaufeu 10-1
- 2.50 Albert Bartlett Novice Hurdle Allaho 7-1
- 3.30 Cheltenham Gold Cup Clan Des Obeaux (nap) 5-1
- 4.10 Foxhunter Chase Hazel Hill 6-1
- 4.50 Grand Annual Handicap Chase Magic Saint 5-1
- 5.30 Martin Pipe Handicap Hurdle Daybreak Boy (nb) 16-1
Which essentially boils down to: Irish hurdlers and Paul Nicholls chasers. The Somerset trainer has already had his best Festival for a decade and two more on the final day does not seem too much to ask. Regarding my picks for the handicap hurdles, I’m either disappointed with the prices or encouraged by the market’s interest in them; I can’t really decide which, but I’ll choose to be happy if either of them wins. There’s no getting away from Sir Erec but I find Allaho more exciting as a prospect.
The Betfair Cheltenham Festival tipping competition
Congratulations to RoryD, who won Thursday’s competition by the simple expedient of being the only person in the whole world who fancied Eglantine Du Seuil (50-1) in the Dawn Run. Along with Frodon, that put him on a score of +49.50 for the day, which is acceptable. Rory, we’ll be in touch by email.
You could win a £100 account credit from Betfair by proving your tipping prowess on today’s races. All you have to do is give us your selections for all of today’s races at Cheltenham. As ever, our champion will be the tipster who returns the best profit to notional stakes of £1 at starting price on each tip. Non-runners count as losers. Please post all your tips in a single posting, using the comment facility below, before the first race at 1.30pm.
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Greg Wood sets the scene
It was a memorable afternoon at Cheltenham on Thursday on what tends to be seen as the weakest card of the meeting, but even the heroics of Frodon and Paisley Park are likely to take second billing behind this afternoon’s Gold Cup when the account of the 2019 Festival is written. A close second perhaps, but it does not matter how many days or races are added to the schedule: the Gold Cup always stands alone as the one we all remember.
Last year’s epic duel between Native River and Might Bite, both of whom are back in the field today, was particularly unforgettable, but it played out on the worst Festival ground for many years and their rivals found it impossible to make ground once Richard Johnson and Nico de Bonville had taken control up front. The conditions will not be so demanding today – the going is current described as good-to-soft – and a lot more of the field are likely to get into the race.
Sixteen are due to go to post in all at 3.30 and the make-up of the race is slightly odd in that the three trainers who have dominated recent Festivals cannot muster a runner at below 10-1 between them.
Presenting Percy, unsighted over fences since winning last year’s RSA, is still just about favourite to follow up for mystery man Pat Kelly – even Davy Russell, Presenting Percy’s jockey, doesn’t know where Kelly lives and hasn’t sat on the horse since he won over hurdles at Gowran Park in January. Clan Des Obeaux, though, is pressing him hard at the top of the market and could yet start favourite to give Paul Nicholls, who has already saddled his first Grade One winners here since 2015 this week, a fifth win in the race.
Willie Mullins, who still has a big hole on his cv where a Gold Cup should be, has four runners this afternoon but all are priced at 11-1 and up, while Gordon Elliott relies on the outsider Shattered Love, last year’s JLT Novice Chase winner. She has had wind surgery since a disappointing run last time out, gets 7lb from the field and should not be dismissed out of hand at around 25-1.
Even a place in the Gold Cup could prove significant in one of the closest races for the trainers’ title for years, which sees Mullins, Elliott and Nicky Henderson all still trading at odds-against. Mullins is the narrow favourite at around 6-4 on Betfair, with Henderson next at 9-4 and Elliott at 5-2.
The head-to-head between Britain and Ireland to finish the week in front is also still up for grabs, with Ireland currently 11-10 in front and even-money favourites on Betfair. Chris Cook’s selections for the final day of the meeting are here, and the action gets underway with the traditional Gold Cup day opener, the Triumph Hurdle, at 1.30.
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